13 June 2012

Library Limelights 8

In case anyone thinks I am slacking, the opinionated comments you see here represent about one-third of my consumption. The greater the stresses of the day, the more one craves decompression with escapist literature. Not that it matters in a grand or even tiny scheme of the universe, but the books I arbitrarily mention are personal standouts one way or the other. One of my ingrained habits is to support Canadian writers. Some of the recent ones enjoyed, but IMO “nothing to write home about,” were:

Ian Hamilton. The Water Rat of Wanchai. Toronto: House of Anansi Press, 2011.
Ava Lee, wonderwoman forensic accountant, two-dimensional personality but good tale.
Suzanne Desrochers. Bride of New France. Toronto: Penguin Canada, 2011.
Groundbreaking research in the Parisian background of les filles; less credible regarding the New World Indians.
Anthony Bidulka. Date with a Sheesha. London, ON: Insomniac Press, 2010.
One of a gay detective series, Saskatoon to exotic locales: Dubai this time.

A.D. Miller. Snowdrops. Toronto: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd., 2010.
What was all the fuss about? A book gets a good review and hundreds line up on the library's waiting list. Englishman in Moscow falls for a Russian woman. Is she sincere? In my opinion, no mystery or suspense here—what I seek, after all. It's a tale of modern Russian survival strategies, and I got tired of waiting for the guy's other shoe to drop. Masha, the oblivious object of Nick's affection, remains impenetrably superficial—now there is a mystery: it's incomprehensible what attracts him to her. In fairness, my expectations might have been too high. Miller is not the incomparable Martin Cruz Smith. Some may argue it's an overdone cliché, but he gets my credit points for contextualizing my favourite Russian aphorism:
“How's the job going?”
“The usual, ... I pretend to work and they pretend to pay me.”

Still, Moscow is sympathetically and vibrantly portrayed, ditto a brief visit to St. Petersburg:
We spent a day and a half looking at the Rembrandts and gilt in the Hermitage, scurrying along the frozen canals (“I didn't realize it would be this cold,” my mum said moronically), poking our noses into the yellow, malevolent St Petersburg courtyards, with their shivering cats and icy piles of rubbish. We nosed obediently around the churches, all besieged by beggars—drunks, crippled soldiers, drunks impersonating soldiers, real uncrippled teenage army conscripts who I imagined were working the streets to keep their officers in booze—and filled with icons, incense, woebegone headscarved women and a haze of ancient prejudice. Plus the old addictive high, the crack for the soul that the Russian church seems to push: the idea that life in this hard place could be beautiful.

George Pelicanos. Hard Revolution. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2004.
Such a slow starter I nearly fell asleep. Or gave up. Cast of hundreds. It had to be that way, meticulously setting the real-life stage for fictional characters in Washington DC before and during the riots of 1968. It's like a guided tour of the city in the 1950s and 1960s—streets, stores, parks, urban landmarks, sports teams, cars, radio stations, popular music, the slang and mannerisms are skillfully recreated. The author draws us into several homes and businesses in one neighbourhood for the full impact upon the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. Police continued to work at solving murders even under the extreme circumstances.

Jones had asked his father for a bicycle once, back in the early fifties, and his father had laughed. Jones asked him again, and his father slapped him so hard he saw stars, just like in the cartoons. Wasn't his real father, anyway. Just some man his mother had ordered Jones to mind. When he wasn't laughing at him, the man used to beat him with a belt or closed hands. If Jones could see him now, he'd kill him. But the man had been dead for ten, twelve years. Got his heart stabbed in a fight over a woman, lived one floor down from where they all stayed.

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